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"Scream (2022)" Review

As we revisited the Scream series of meta-horror flicks - originally released in 1996, 1997, 2000, and 2011, respectively - recently in preparation for the unasked-for and unnecessary "requel" (reboot+sequel=dumb term) in the form of....[checks notes]...not Scream 5, but just Scream (with a 2022 tacked on to distinguish from the original) the strain of trying to keep the same core group of characters connected to each installment's plot became more tenuous than the ways the Die Hard sequels found ways for John McClane to have another bad day and that strain continues with this latest episode.

 If you've seen one or all of the Scream series, you know what you're in for here: After an opening scene where some teen girl home alone (this time it's Jenna Ortega) is attacked by Ghostface, the guessing game of who is the killer and what connects them to the previous murders in Woodsboro with plenty of winking meta commentary about the rules of horror films and how they try to mask the creative bankruptcy of returning to the same well too many times.

The first few times they ran this shtick it was cute, but a quarter-century later in a movie where not one or two, but FOUR of the characters are children of various franchise characters, to quote Deadpool in Deadpool 2, is just lazy writing. While they try to up the stakes (while literally announcing they're upping the stakes) by killing off some of the original players in addition to the new batch of redshirts, the setting of the third act is just another coincidence too far. As dismal and pointless as The Matrix Resurrections was at pointless sequeling, it at least attempted to change the scenery a bit. I'm not even addressing how improbable it was Martha Meeks (Heather Mattarazzo) somehow snagged herself a gorgeous black husband to father the gorgeous latte-skinned twins in this crew. 

By the end of Scream, they sail well past not having genre blindness (i.e. when people in zombie movies have no idea what zombies are) into all but stating that they are in a Scream sequel while referencing the Stab movie-within-movie series which serve as the fictionalized versions of what happens in Scream movies.

The lack of verve is also disappointing because the directors and writers taking over from scribe Kevin Williamson (who wrote the 1st, 2nd, and 4th chapters) and deceased director Wes Craven (who directed all four of the previous entries) were the team who collaborated for 2019's kicky and original thriller Ready or Not which starred Samara Weaving as a bride who is forced to fight off her new in-laws attempting to hunt and kill her as part of their deal with Satan and I'm not kidding, that's the plot. (Definitely check it out if you haven't seen it.) 

Whether it was the weight of having to include so much legacy framework or the 20-minute-longer running time, Scream somewhat plods along allowing too much time to ponder things like why is there absolutely no one else in the hospital wing where Ghostface's prey is or why don't we get to see Sydney Prescott's (Neve Campbell) family or, really, who the heck fathered Martha's hot kids?

While the preceding may lend the impression that I'm rather down on Scream, it's not so much as thinking it's a particularly bad movie, since it's about as good as the other sequels, as their not even trying to elevate the horror even as it references the new wave of "elevated horror" movies like The Witch and The Babadook. After more than a decade, they should've tried for more than just another teen requel.

Score: 6/10. Catch it on cable.  

"Nightmare Alley" (2021) Review

 Contrary to film snob orthodoxy, I'm not much of a fan of Guillermo del Toro. While he's undeniably very good as a stylist, consistently delivering lush, fully realized fantastical settings and characters, his obsession with gratuitous sex and especially violence overhangs his generally thin story-telling. Whether it was Pan's Labyrinth which was sold as a fairy tale about a young girl and mystical creatures which graphically showed a man's face being smashed in with a wine bottle or the appallingly Oscar-winning The Shape of Water (or as I prefer "Grinding Nemo") which mixes graphic masturbating and fish-f*cking with a story where straight white American men are the villains and a rainbow coalition of diversity people are the heroes, the style seemed to be the substance.

 Expecting another empty pretty picture like Crimson Peak, I didn't have much expectation for Nightmare Alley, his remake of a barely-remembered 1947 film which starred Tyrone Power. Clearly tooled up for Oscar baiting - which it somewhat succeeded in doing, snagging four nominations including Best Picture and Cinematography - it stars Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Rooney Mara, David Straithairn, Richard Jenkins, and del Toro mainstay Ron Perlman in a dark noir tale of circuses, grifting, high society and, of course, murder.

 Set in 1939, Cooper stars as Stan, a mysterious man who joins up with a carnival and proceeds to gain the confidence of the couple (Collette and Straitharn) who perform a clairvoyant act and learn how they use coded language to pull it off. He also woos a sideshow performer (Mara) and after he uses his cold-reading skills to save the carnival from being shut down by the sheriff, agrees to leave with him for bigger things.

 Two years later, on the verge of World War II, they are headlining as a high society supper club psychic act in Buffalo. One night, a sleek woman (Blanchett) attempts to trip them up, but his skills allow him to wriggle out of the bind. She's a psychologist who beguiles him and entices him into a grift where using information about her patient's from their sessions wire recordings to underpin contact with spirits beyond, first for a the grieving parents of a WWI soldier (Peter MacNeill and Mary Steenburgen), then a very rich, powerful and scary industrialist (Jenkins) who pines for his deceased mistress.

 Showing restraint in the carnage and fueled by top shelf performances, none of which caught the Academy's eye for some inexplicable reason (it's not as if most of the cast hasn't been nominated or won before, especially Cooper, who has the most complex role), del Toro delivers an effective period noir which doesn't just seem a parlor gag. 

However, anyone who knows how noir tales go will easily deduce how it's all going to turn out for Stan and, frankly, how a guy whose entire career is reading marks for a living doesn't look at Blanchett in full Lauren Bacall femme fatale mode and recognize it's going to go very badly for him is baffling. I get that guys are supposed to be dumb due to all the blood flowing out of their big head, but come on.

After flopping hard upon its holiday release, it was swiftly sent to streaming on Hobo Max and Hulu less than two months later. Whether it's really Best Picture quality is debatable; how it apparently directed itself and managed to be a "best picture" despite no nominations for the acting or writing is puzzling, but very on brand for the completely risible Academy these days. But for once I can recommend a del Toro movie even if it's not exceptionally exceptional.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on cable. (Currently on HBO Max and Hulu)

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